First Sleigh Ride of the Season
by Suzanne Lupien of Thetford Center, VT
Waking to a white world: three inches or more on the ground with more coming down. Early hay feeding, as generally, before dawn, fat snowflakes on my cheek. Horses frisky. Cows restful on their bed, chewing their cud. Not rising for breakfast, happy for the hay tossed on their pillows. Awhile later Dick and Annie, catching sight of me with halters in hand, go fooling all around the pasture this way and that, up and down. Dick bucking, throwing his head, galloping and farting. Annie playing in her own modest, inward way: trotting fast, a hint of a canter, a glimpse of a neck toss, a smile. I stand in the middle of the field enjoying the show, laughing and waiting. Time after time they roar by, until at last they’re ready to come. So down to the shed we go, for the oats, the hitching, grooming and harnessing. I leave them to chew oats while I open pasture gates for the sled. And make my way to the sled, sledge hammer in hand, to rap the heels of the iron runners, breaking them free from the frozen ground. Returning to the shed for the grooming and harnessing, horses damp. We three agree: This is going to be fun! They’ve been pulling this sled faithfully all spring, summer and fall, to stay in shape, to move load after load of cordwood and brush. Heavy going. Never any hurry with the harnessing – we’ve got all day, don’t we? Harnessing always goes the same way. First Dick’s collar, then Annie’s. Then Annie’s harness, Dick’s second. Then comes our favorite part: I remove Dick’s halter and he rests his might and handsome head in my arms. I hold him, rub his head all over and say my silent prayer of thanks for him, for us together. Then I lift his bridle off the hame, he turns his head toward me, lowers it and opens his mouth and holds it open till the bridle goes on, which always makes me chuckle. Now he’s dressed! I buckle on his outside line. Now Annie’s turn. Same thing. Remove halter, hold her head, speak softly, soothing rub. Two minutes maybe. Her bridle, her outside line. I come between to buckle on the inside lines, speaking softly as I gather the lines and drape them, doubled, over my right shoulder. Then we start, turning haw, and head for the sled. Stepping neatly into position, I ask, as I do every time, just for Dick to swing his hindquarters closer to the pole. He complies. The end of the pole is frozen to the ground, so I kick it loose. Neck yoke and traces. I climb in. First steps of sweet free gliding, and off we go!